NEW YORK'S CARDINAL O'CONNOR DIES
John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, died Wednesday at the age of
80. Cardinal O'Connor was the oldest active U.S. Bishop and one of the country's most
prominent Catholics. He will be remembered all across the country, by both Catholics and
non-Catholics alike, as a man of God who valued the right of life for all.
His health began to fail after he had a brain tumor removed in August 1999. He gathered the
strength to make a farewell visit to Rome to see the Holy Father in February of this year. Over
the past few months, Cardinal O'Connor was reported to be very weak and missed many public
Masses at St. Patrick's Cathedral, as well as, reviewing the St. Patrick's Day Parade, as he had
done for the previous 15 years.
Cardinal O'Connor grew up in a Philadelphia row house. He attended public schools until hewas a junior in high school. Under
the Christian Brothers of West Catholic High, he was inspired to take up a religious life. He entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia at age 16
and was ordained nine years later.
He spent most of his religious life in military uniform, joining the Navy in 1952 in answer to a call
for more chaplains during the Korean War. When he retired 27 years later, he had risen to Rear
Admiral and Chief of Chaplains of the Armed Forces. Later as an Archbishop and member of
the episcopal commission that spent two years drafting the American bishops' 1983 pastoral
letter on war and peace, he influenced the bishops in America to tone down criticism of U.S.
After leaving the Navy in 1979, he was made an Auxiliary Bishop and assigned to the Military
Vicarate under Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York. In May 1983 he was appointed Bishop
of Scranton, Pa. He held that post less than a year before being chosen to succeed Cardinal
Cooke - who died of cancer - as the Archbishop of New York. He was elevated to Cardinal in
Cardinal O'Connor will be remembered as a strong and faithful shepherd. At a time when
Catholics in America were increasingly inclined to take a "cafeteria stand on matters of faith and
morals", Cardinal O'Connor continued to proclaim Church teaching on birth control, abortion
and homosexuality. He chaired the influential Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities and
directed the Church's use of an advertising firm to sway public opinion on abortion. "Given the
stakes - life itself - we can do no less," he said. Cardinal O'Connor also battled with prominent
Catholic abortion rights supporters, most notably with former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo
and Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee. Cardinal O'Connor
refused to accept their position, writing in 1990 that Catholics who opposed the Church's
teachings on abortion by "advocating legislation supporting abortion, or by making public funds
available for abortion ... must be warned that they are at a risk of excommunication. If such
actions persist, bishops may consider excommunication the only option."
The Cardinal also led opposition to local gay rights legislation and banished a gay Catholic group
from a parish church. In 1989, enraged activists responded by chaining themselves to pews and
throwing condoms in the air during Mass at St. Patrick's in New York. Meanwhile, Cardinal
O'Connor made unannounced visits to Catholic hospitals where he ministered to AIDS patients.
This past year, at Yom Kippur, he sent a letter to Jewish leaders expressing "my own abject
sorrow for any member of the Catholic Church, high or low, who may have harmed you or your
forebears." This echoes the expression of forgiveness that Pope John Paul II asked for in his
letter of forgiveness, which he recently place in the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Cardinal O'Connor also made headlines when in 1998 he pledged to boycott baseball games all
year because the Major Leagues played on Good Friday.
In reflecting upon his life, Cardinal O'Connor said he would have been content to be a parish
priest or teacher. He further added, "I would like my epitaph to say simply that 'He was a good
priest'." Cardinal O'Connor feared that he might instead be remembered for "the alleged - and to
me, the mythical - power, about my purported political manipulations and all that kind of